Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte said he had accepted the resignation of his chief peace adviser Tuesday, as the nation was preparing for a January 2019 plebiscite to ratify a Muslim autonomy law in the south.
Duterte did not give any reason for Jesus Dureza’s resignation as presidential adviser on the peace process, but his surprise announcement came at the same time that he divulged that he had also fired two of Dureza’s top men on allegations of corruption.
“I am very sad that I accepted the resignation of Secretary Dureza,” Duterte said at an early evening speech in the central island of Bohol, where he had inaugurated an international airport.
He suggested in his speech that Dureza was not implicated in corruption in an anti-poverty program for residents in insurgency-wracked areas.
Dureza is considered one of the Duterte’s closest and trusted aides, having been a longtime friend and a former classmate of the president.
In his Nov. 27 resignation letter to the president, Dureza said he had informed Duterte as early as Nov. 6 about allegations of corruption involving his two men.
He explained that he could not focus on the internal management of the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process because he concentrated on settling the insurgencies.
“I am sad because despite my efforts to be compliant with your strong advocacy against corruption, I failed,” Dureza said in his letter, which he made public.
Dureza’s resignation came more than a month before the south holds a special plebiscite in January aimed at ratifying the Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL).
Duterte signed the BOL in July last year – four years after the previous government signed a peace deal with the 11,000-strong Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).
BOL aims to give the poverty-stricken south an expanded autonomous area, offering self-determination to the nation’s minority four million Muslims by giving them powers to elect their own parliament.
Authorities hope that the BOL would end a nearly 40-year conflict that has killed more than 120,000 people in the country’s second-largest island of Mindanao. As part of the deal on the BOL, the MILF had also agreed to disband its fighting force.
The plebiscite is to take place in the predominantly Muslim provinces of Basilan, Sulu, Tawi-Tawi, Maguindanao and Lanao del Sur. It will also include six towns in Lanao del Norte and the cities of Cotabato and Isabela in Basilan.
There have been fears of attacks from other militant groups allied with the Islamic State and opposed to the MILF-government peace deal, officials said. Additional troops would be deployed in areas in the south to thwart attacks, the military and police said.
Mark Navales from Cotabato City contributed to this report.